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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2000 /30 Shevat, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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McCain: Image versus reality -- ONE OF THE REAL IRONIES of the Republican primaries is that the candidate who has run the most opportunistic campaign has the greatest image of integrity -- Senator John McCain.

You cannot have integrity in the abstract. You must have integrity about something, if you have it at all. On what principle or issue has Senator McCain shown this supposedly great integrity? Abortion? He has waffled. Tax cuts? He has split the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Gays in the military? He would confer with his military advisers.

The only consistency and integrity demonstrated by McCain in this political campaign has been in promoting the image of consistency and integrity. After the gross dishonesty of Bill Clinton, many Americans are dying to have a leader they can believe in. Senator McCain seems determined to provide the image of such a leader -- though not necessarily the reality.

The determined smile, the presidential bearing, the lofty words -- they are all there. But how much is form and how much is substance?

"I wouldn't take every penny of the surplus and spend it on tax cuts," Senator McCain says in one of his political ads. Who would? Who is he trying to misrepresent in this way?

When it comes to the budget surplus, you either want to keep the money in Washington or send it back to the people who earned it. But McCain tries to have this both ways as well. His rationale for keeping much of the money in Washington is to pay down the national debt.

The idea of having the government accumulate money from a surplus, in order to pay down the national debt, is neither new nor uniquely American. The same proposal was made in England two centuries ago -- and the fallacy of it was exposed then as well.

Nobody in his right mind really expected politicians to let money accumulate before their eyes without spending it. It wasn't going to happen then and it is not going to happen now. Is Senator McCain naive enough to think that it will -- or cynical enough to use the idea to justify opposing a tax cut?

Whatever the merits or demerits of the other Republican candidates' positions, these positions do have consistency and integrity. Does anyone doubt that Steve Forbes is for a flat tax or that Gary Bauer is against abortion? Are the positions of Governor George W. Bush or Alan Keyes inconsistent with what most Republicans have stood for over the years?

Only John McCain has tried to blend the arguments of Democrats with the arguments of Republicans on such issues as tax cuts and campaign finance reform, all the while publicly invoking the name of Ronald Reagan, while pandering to the liberal media that is helping his image-making. The liberal New Republic magazine even defended McCain's calloused jokes about the elderly suffering from Alzheimer's disease and seizures. He's their guy.

This is integrity? Then what would opportunism be?

With all the hoopla and spin and media punditry surrounding the primaries, ultimately this is all about choosing the President of the United States.

That is not an office for make believe. The safety of our country and the future of our children is in the hands of whoever holds that office.

Whatever the merits of the various Republican candidates, the only one of them who has executive experience in a political office is Governor George W. Bush. And this is experience in a state larger than France. Governor Bush is also the only Republican who repeatedly outpolls the Democrats' likely candidate, Vice President Al Gore.

Bush's poll leads over Al Gore used to be in double digits. But, after unremitting sniping from his Republican rivals, the governor's lead has now shrunk to dangerously small levels. What purpose would be served by a McCain victory in New Hampshire, except to allow the internal bloodletting among Republicans to continue on for months, increasing the likelihood of a victory for the Democrats in November and essentially a third Clinton administration under his protege Al Gore?

Is John McCain worth such a risk?

None of the other Republican candidates besides Governor Bush has enough national support to have an realistic chance of winning the White House.

Some may be running to "send a message" but sending messages can be done on the Internet. The Presidency of the United States is too important for that.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate